Love and Chaos Part 8(H) Alan 2

6th July 2021

CAFE CINEMA, Berlin - Mitte (Borough) - Restaurant Reviews, Photos & Phone  Number - Tripadvisor
A typical Berlin art bar, showing films, staging poetry slams etc. This one is in Berlin Mitte, from Google Images

Part Eight. Berlin. October 1995

Alan sat alone at the small desk, hunched over a tiny film viewer, watching and rewatching a section of film. The wall was covered with thin strips of film of varying length. The top of each one had a piece of white paper, giving information that anyone but Alan would find incomprehensible.

He turned the handle, watching magnified images pass through the tiny monitor. He consulted his notes and selected the best takes from each scene, then the exact frame to be cut. He marked the frame with the puncher on the monitor. Carefully, lovingly, he removed the film from the cog wheels and held it up to see the tiny indentation. He aligned this on the spokes of his film cutter and guillotined the end. The selected piece was then labelled and stuck on the wall, at a precise point, between the scenes coming immediately before and after it.

Alan picked up the film curled on the table, held it up against the light, squinting as he saw with his eye where the next scene began.

He ran this piece of film through the monitor to find the exact spot where it should begin.

So he spent the whole evening, editing his short film.

He loved everything about making films. He loved getting the initial idea, the casting and telling the actors about the story and the style he intended to use. He loved the filming, meeting up, drinking take-out coffee, preparing shots. Now he loved the end stage, the editing and splicing. He was alone, peaceful, and had complete control over the images.

He couldn’t wait to run the rough cut through the monitor, make the final micro cuts, then play it through the projector, and see his work on the cinemascope that was the bedroom wall.

He laughed to himself when he looked at the projector. He had told Vincent about needing a better quality one, and the actor had suggested the flea market by Tacheles.

Sure enough, on the muddy wasteland there were two or three tables that had old cine equipment. Alan asked one stall holder the price of an exquisite machine and was ignored. Vincent came over and winked at Alan. He picked up the projector and then put it down. He asked the price of a totally different item, appeared uninterested and seemed to wonder off. The Stall holder sat down, back to his wurst roll. Vincent walked away; clutching the projector. Alan saw and was shocked, but played along. He stayed looking at some bits, then slowly turned and walked away at a very casual pace, showing that his hands were clearly empty and that he had absolutely no connection whatsoever with that other gentleman.

This acting lark was really easy, he thought to himself. Procuring equipment apparently posed no problems. Now for presentation.

Vincent had said that the film could be shown in the bars all over east Berlin. It was no problem to organise movie nights, and he mentioned some bars in Friedrichshain where he was known. One named Kinski stood out.

Alan still couldn’t believe it; actors, equipment, a processing studio and venues in which to screen. An audience ready and open to new work.

And Julie.

Alan was spending a lot of time on the close-ups of Julie. He had deliberately shot more than was required. He slowly turned the handle, so that no individual frame would stay too long under the lamp and burn.

He told himself that he was just admiring her beauty. Looking for her best angles, and deciding that all angles were her best.

He had several new scripts ready. The money for film stock and processing could easily be earned and Vincent had introduced him to a number of actors, would-be actors and people who had agreed to take part in the no-budget films.

His plans began to get more elaborate, longer films, dialogue, screenings at festivals. All was possible. He simply had to make it happen, stay focused. Berlin was his.

He followed these thoughts with others of a more personal nature, until he remembered he was on a deadline. The film could get it’s premier next Friday, if it was ready.

Alan got back to work, passing over the image of Julie with a gentle sigh.

But Alan hadn’t been prepared for the nerves. He had always imagined this moment, the screening of his first film, showing his work, his ideas, to a public of strangers.

The experience was different.

The venue, an official bar, was run by a group of young people but looked and felt like some of the more organised squat bars.

Vincent enjoyed the attention, the hugs and slightly exaggerated greetings, and Alan tried to get some of his energy and confidence. More and more people were coming into the bar, a large cine screen already in place, the projector protected. When Alan made some tests for focus, there was always someone to make rabbit-ear shadows on the screen. It got a little tired after ten or eleven times.

The time approached, as far as bars like this kept to schedules, and Vincent looked at Alan and suggested they had better start soon, or everyone would be too drunk to care.

But no Julie.

“Ja, sometimes rehearsals go on longer, maybe they had to do some new scenes. It is next week, things need working on.” Vincent referred to a play that Julie was in, a radical reworking of Baal, as Julie had described it, with a hint that radical was a very polite and optimistic description.

“Come, we show it now, then later, if she comes.”

Vincent, without waiting for a response, whistled to the bar man, who turned off the music. He put in a tape that Alan had prepared. The lights went down, to sounds of claps, cheers and whoops.

Alan’s heart froze. He was almost paralysed with fear. He reached out for Vincent’s beer and took a swig that drained the bottle. Then he hit the switch. The sound of the motor turning, a beam of light hitting the large screen. He indicated to the bar man to play the cassette, and as the first image of Vincent, in Close-Up appeared, five foot tall on the screen, the melancholic notes of Debussy poured into the room.

There were immediate claps and wolf whistles, followed by a general hushing.

Julie was next up, but the sight of her, in a short dress, sitting on the grass, just caused more and more screams. But this was good. Alan felt Vincent put his arm around him. He kept it there for the entire film.

The entire film was little over five minutes and got a further two minutes of non-stop applause. Alan beamed. His nerves, totally gone, he knew he would never again be nervous, his ideas were good, his films would get better and better. He would be a film director. He was a film director.

By the next screening, demanded by the audience, Alan was too tipsy to gauge the reaction. He had been congratulated by friends and strangers. Others had come up and pleaded with him to be in his next film. Others asked where else he was screening, had he heard about certain festivals, other Berlin venues ? Until the beer hampered his senses, he made a note of everyone, very clear, with name and contact number or address.


When Julie finally appeared, very apologetic, he greeted her, and she was noticed and lauded by the drinkers, not allowed to pay for her Sekt.

She apologised for missing it, leading Alan to suggest that she come over tomorrow and have a private screening. To his amazement, she accepted the offer and they set a time.

Vincent asked about the play and they spoke about the director, who changed his mind scene to scene, demanded re-writes, re-casting, costume changes. The actors now came in holding out their hands for new instructions, an in-joke being, ‘what was wrong with the last re-write ?’

“Not like Alan,” she said, patting him on the shoulder and leaving her arm there. “So, tell me, how was the film, tonight ?”

Vincent spoke, but Julie was looking at Alan. They smiled at each other.

The following night, Julie appeared exactly on time, as if she had arrived early and was counting down to when she could knock on the door.

She really liked the film, the style and the camera work. She was a little shy about seeing herself, but viewed it professionally and made tiny criticisms, all of which Alan dismissed.

Over coffee, Julie was relaxed enough to speak openly about the play. She had considered it a breech of professional conduct to be critical of a production, but she felt it was going to be a disaster. When asked why, she took her time and chose her words carefully,

“For one thing, there are too many people. The cast should have been cut, and actors doubling up. We never have a rehearsal with everyone there, always someone having to stand-in, and it’s hard to work up an reaction to someone reading a script without emotion.

“Then the constant script changes. We learn a part overnight, and find it’s been cut. Most of the actors don’t accept this and half an hour gets wasted when everyone shouts out their opinion.

“And we all have to work as well, there is no way we will get anything out this, financially. Not that it matters. But most of us work and have to give up our spare time. Can’t bear to see it so un-productive. There, enough moaning.”

Alan told her it was OK, he liked to hear an actor’s perspective and asked for tips. Julie thought for a little while, then began, tentatively,

“If I can make one tiny suggestion, it would be . . . how ? OK, just to be more confident. You know what you want. The actors don’t. It is up to you to tell them, what to do, not to get their suggestions. Because most actors will just suggest endless Close-Ups of themselves.”

There was a slight pause before Alan and then Julie laughed

“So I should follow Mr Hitchcock’s advise and treat actors like cattle ?”

“I didn’t say that !”

The conversation continued effortlessly. Alan said that despite the weather getting colder, there was still enough light to film in October. Julie laughed and said,

“Not for much longer. You’ll have to start directing theatre, because you won’t be able to film outside until April or May.”

Alan had never thought of this, but, of course he had an immediate cinema reference point.

“Like Ingmar Bergman ?” he said referring to the Swedish film and theatre director. “He would keep the same group of actors for both. Must have helped to develop a close working experience. Well ? Would you like to do some theatre with me ?”

“You have something ?”

“Well . . . I just might.”

As autumn once again became winter, there were other changes over Berlin. Alan would start to study theatre from the books available to him. Julie would start to get more and more attention for her craft. Daniel would rethink what medium he should use for his artistic expression. Chris would be very careful about what women he would fall in love with. A lost music student would search for direction. A Philosophy student would find his first semester harder than he ever imagined and would consider changing courses. And Richard would fall in love with a German girl who would make him happier than he had ever been, until, that too, went horribly wrong.

Love and Chaos Part 8(A) Alan 1

14th June 2021

Pfefferberg in Berlin | there you can read more: www.pfeffer… | Flickr

Pfefferberg on Schönhauser Allee, Prenzlauer Berg. Google Images

Part Eight

Berlin. August 1995

Life, thought Alan, is incredible. Degree attained, a prestigious job in the City, networking with the movers and shakers, the future investors and producers. A year of being, a year of nothingness. No script, no contacts, no cast of characters, no crew, no shakers, but at least a move.


Now, thought Alan, I am a Putzfrau (cleaning woman), but I have more disposable income. No exorbitant London rents, travel passes, food, the NFT membership, however, had been essential. And I’ve found my cast of characters; I am surrounded by actors and artists. My dreams are no longer abstract plans, but actual possibilities.

Berlin; he loved Berlin. Immediately. Here was a city with real atmosphere, a city to be lived in, to feel alive, every inch a film set

People spoke to you. Neighbours, shop keepers, people on the street. You could go up to anyone in a bar and start talking.

He had been in the city less than a month but was already planning on extending his stay and finding another room, or even his own flat. Such plans were ludicrous in London; a cleaner having his own flat.

Alan was not going to let anything go to waste. Every experience would be stored for reference. Every time he rode the S-Bahn, or an elevated U-Bahn, he took in all the sights, mentally framing them, he took in all the beautiful women in their summer dresses, tilting his inner lens, Dutch angles capturing German angels. He listened to the symphony of this city, he was a man with a movie camera.

Alan tried articulating these thoughts, and many others, writing to his sister. He decided to use the letters as a writing exercises, to make his views lucid. He wasn’t sure if he succeeded.

Dear Sis,

Where to start ? You were right about Berlin – why didn’t I come last year ? All that time wasted, nothing to show for it. Not anymore – I have seen a camera I like (and can afford !) and will buy it tomorrow.

Kelly is so sweet – she’s really looked after me. I’ve met so many new people. You were right about Vincent – girls love him – what a great actor he’ll be (in my films, I mean !) so charismatic.

The room is big and light – not too girly, with a computer and even some books in English (Nasti – the girl whose room I’m subletting, is a geography student and has to study in English, no text-books in German, apparently).

Kelly got me the first job. I’m up at 5:30 and go to an Irish bar near Tacheles, the arts centre, and clean for about 2 hours. The bar owner is a splendid Irish man called Patrick (no, I’m not making this up). He set me up with another bar where I work for the next two hours. I can walk from one bar to the other.

I get home around noon, in time for lunch – coffee, rolls with jam or honey, some fruit, and start planing my films !

I saw Vincent perform – all in German, so I couldn’t understand it – but he held the stage well and kept the audience’s attention, quite an achievement ! Yes – bars here are very different – any space can open, stock up with crates and sell beer. As you would eloquently say, “It’s bonkers !”

Yes – I have been a little tipsy, sometimes – everyone buys me beers, even when I tell them I don’t want one – they think it’s English politeness !!

Have meet lots of girls ! All very nice. Kelly will take me to somewhere nearby – the Pepperberg (????) – something like Pepper Mountain (???)

I hear there are some second hand bookshops around – really need to find them – read my collection over and over. Went to a special English bookshop but it is SO EXPENSIVE !!!! Books at twice the cover price. Located in a horrid area as well, very bleak, drab, overwhelmingly depressing, decades of failed dreams etched in the brickwork.

Could you save my life and send over my ‘Bazin’ ??? I have two slim volumes (not too much postage – OH, and my ‘Godard on Godard’ – how could I have forgotten THAT !!!)

Brilliant idea of yours – maybe you can pop over at some point ? How is the job ? Won’t ask about London because I don’t care !!!

Lots of love

Alan

Next evening, a Friday, Kelly, along with some friends, took Alan from their flat near the Wasserturm and walked to the Pfefferberg.

This was a huge arts complex, whose classical façade dominated the southern stretch of Schönhauser Allee. Paying the entrance at street level, Kelly took Alan up the steps to a wide, open beer garden. People sat on the walls and looked down to the street below, or danced in the centre. Buildings arranged around the courtyard were opened and housed temporary exhibitions of paintings, or were hosting poetry slams.

Alan looked around, so tempted to lift his fingers to his eyes and make a camera shape and pan left to right. What a location, he thought. He couldn’t resist; he made the camera shape and paned left to right.

Through his fingers he spotted Vincent, with some girls, and they came over, Vincent very tall and flamboyant, dwarfing Alan who was under average height.

“So Herr Direktor, did you buy the camera today ?” he asked.

Alan smiled and slowly nodded,

“And projector and three film cartridges.”

“You’re still on your first beer ?” Kelly asked him, concerned that he wasn’t having a good time.

Alan lifted it up and showed that if was over half full. Also, he didn’t smoke, and was starting to believe that he may be the only person in Berlin who didn’t. Then he met another non-smoker who came up and introduced herself.

“They told me I shouldn’t speak to you, because you only talk about cinema. Well, I love cinema too. Hello. My name’s Julie.”

Love and Chaos Part 7(J) Alan 1

11th June 2021

Part Seven. London. July 1995

This was not how things were supposed to be. Alan was meant to be making contacts, writing scripts, raising funds, shooting test footage, hanging out in cafés discussing Neo-Realism and the Nouvelle Vague, dissecting scripts and camera set-ups, meeting gorgeous actresses, he was meant to be making cinema.

Instead, he was working forty hours a week and spending an extra ten hours on the Tube. Most of his money went on a bedsit that he hated, and travel money, which he resented. He went to the cinema on Mondays when it was cheaper, but often fell asleep half way through a film.

He was twenty-two but felt old and exhausted. It was a time when he should be energetic and enthusiastic, but he saw his life fading away, not in great, dramatic spurts, but like a slow puncture, the air irreparably escaping.

He hated his life, his job, London. He was barely surviving and had spent a whole year since graduating with absolutely nothing to show for it.

But he couldn’t see any way out, except to make a great film and have it shown at festivals and from there be offered a chance to make a real film.

This great film needed to be written and cast and shot and printed and edited and screened. So far, a scattering of disconnected ideas and theories. Nothing else.

It was his sister that offered a way out.

He loved his older sister, she was probably his closest friend, though he bemoaned her taste in cinema. While he was at the National Film Theatre, seeing old Black and White subtitled art films, she’d be in the multi-screens with popcorn and giant Cokes immediately forgetting the film she had just seen.

She agreed to differ about their taste in film. He didn’t.

It was during one of these harangues that she casually mentioned an offer from Berlin that she’d have to decline. Kelly, her friend in Berlin, had a spare room, as her flatmate was going travelling the whole summer, and wondered if she would like to rent it. However having just started a new job, Jo Francis thought it best to try to build a career, rather than have fun; besides, she had ‘done’ Berlin.

“Maybe you should go,” she said to Alan, in an off-hand, flippant way. Then she sat up. “Yes, maybe you should. Kelly’s boyfriend is an actor. Does readings and performances, based on some old French poems.”

“Rimbaud ?”

“Rambo ? Are you bonkers ?”

“No . . . the symbolist poet, the . . . how is it possible we are from the same gene pool ?”

“Well, the milkman was awfully sweet, I’ve been told.”

“Very droll. But . . . an actor ? What’s he like ?”

“Stunning. Long flowing hair, big old army coat, all brass and ribbon. Always wears boots. Good idea in Berlin. Lots of dog poop. “

“How much is the rent ?”

Alan heard the amount needed.

“Per week ?”

“No, Sweetheart, per month. Can probably get work there, too. Vincent, oh, that is the boyfriend . . . “

“I know, flowing hair and boots.”

“Yes, really yummy ! Vincent knows just everybody. Would you like me to write to her.”

“Could you call instead ?”

“Oh, you’re all enthusiastic, how adorable.”

After booking his flight, with money borrowed from his sister, Alan went into Fordham’s Books & Tapes and picked up a ‘Complete Rimbaud’, ‘Poems of Villon’ and an anthology of French poets from Nerval to Valery. Naturally, he had to visit the Cinema section, where he found ‘Godard on Godard’ in paperback. Finally, on the ground floor, Alan found the ‘Rough Guide to Berlin,’ the illustrated cover showing a decidedly European cafe scene, very cinematic. What better omen ?

Without even meeting Vincent, he decided that he would be his actor, a Belmondo to his Godard, a Mastroiani to his Fellini.

Now, all he needed was an idea.

Love and Chaos Part 6(J) Chris 2

22nd May 2021

City Getting Blander': Berlin Clears One of its Last Remaining Squats - DER  SPIEGEL
The famous Tacheles art center and bastion of squat. Google Images.

Part Six. Berlin. March 1995

Richard was happy to see Chris sitting at the end of the bar in Biberkopf. Happy, but not surprised. The previous Saturday, it had been Chris’ idea to go to some clubs in Mitte. The reason given was to have a break from the Czar Bar, but Richard knew that Chris was hoping to see Monika.

They had gone to several bars and clubs around Rosenthaler Platz but had just watched other people dance, rather than join in. Going out clubbing was going to be very different without the Gang.

Chris took an immediate dislike to a girl from New Zealand, whom he found loud and brash and not entirely pretty. She was dancing with a German theatre student (they surmised) who was wearing a white polo neck tucked into white jeans, held up with black braces. Chris took an instant dislike to him too.

The dreaded twosome began dancing, acting out some scenario that had her pretending to slap him, and him turning away in agony, with mechanical movements.

“Look the fuck at that. Robot dancing. Fucking hell, what is this, nineteen seventy-four ?”

“Do you think,” asked Richard, trying to salvage the evening, “that in some parallel universe, there are robots who go out, get lubricated, and start people dancing ?”

“Yes. I’m sure that’s exactly what happens.”

Richard felt his joke deserved better than that, but he knew the underlying cause. Chris was devastated over losing Monika. Considering the way the break up happened, there was little chance of a reconciliation.

Just over an hour after leaving the Mitte club, they were back in the Czar Bar, agreeing that they belonged here, with the squatters, punks, hard-core alcoholics, Tom Waits and Nick Cave, not with the would-be beautiful people and Euro Disco.

Having worked there with Jake, Chris was now well known and accepted. He knew nearly everyone by name, and gave Richard the low-down, who was worth knowing, who was best to avoid.

Tonight, it was Andrei and Olga working. Andrei resembled a Viking marauder, more than a Slav, with long blonde hair and a long blonde beard. He wasn’t especially tall, but made up for it by having an amazing girth. He was, quite simply, not a man to mess with. Occasionally some idiot with suicidal tendencies would venture his luck, but it was a short-lived enterprise. With Andrei it was one strike and you’re out. His girlfriend, Olga, was tall and slim, with blonde hair and a majestic bearing, looking like a Russian princess (Revolution notwithstanding). It was painfully easy to fall in love with her. So, of course, Richard did.

Apart from her beauty, she possessed two talents, highly prized. One was that she made the best Bloody Marys . . . ever. It was a remarkable sight to see giant, unwashed, street-fighting men sipping her concoction through a delicate straw.

The second talent was her voice. She would accompany herself on guitar, simple but effective picking, and out of her thin frame came the voice of an angel. An angel, however, with a distinct liking for tequila.

As there was barely a night without someone coming in with a guitar and playing, whether they were requested to or not, and as Olga loved the attention, so deserved, she often gave an impromptu concert .

This night, however, there was a little tension between her and her boyfriend. Richard sensed this, but Chris, drinking quickly and encouraging Richard to do same, was too busy with his own problems.

Then Jake arrived, making all attempts at conversation useless. He bombarded Chris and Richard with a detailed account of the awful food he had just eaten at a late night Imbiss. When he left to use the toilet, Chris said,

“What a fucking voice. Like a foghorn.”

“Yeah, Foghorn Leghorn.”

This unexpected, though remarkably apt comment, together with the beers and vodka, put them into a laughing fit, that continued as Jake returned. He naturally was curious as to the cause. Richard was in the mood for mischief.

“We were speaking about favourite cartoon characters. I used to love Foghorn Leghorn, but we can’t remember his catchphrase.”

Jake stepped up, puffing out his chest and strutting around,

“I say I saw a, saw a, I say, I saw a chicken”

It was too much. Richard was having difficulty breathing and Chris all but fell off his chair. Jake took this as a positive sign, and continued, with appropriate chicken and rooster movements.

Olga was looking at Richard and laughing, knowing he was the instigator.

“Hey, Olga gets it.”

“No, she’s from Moscow, she doesn’t know what the fuck a Foghorn Leghorn is,” Chris argued.

But after that, memories became hazy; there were snatches of Jake strutting around the bar, greeting bemused newcomers with the catchphrase and ordering drinks in the galline manner.

Richard woke up some time Sunday afternoon, having no idea how they had arrived home. He got into a panic and checked his possessions. Travel ticket, watch, wallet, even some money left. All was well with the world and what wasn’t could wait.

The next day Chris was at Richard’s work, joking with the bar staff. Matias was making the bar, a moustachioed bodybuilder type, who had a hands-on policy with regards to the female staff. Ully was being her pleasant self, obviously not too concerned with making large tips and a new girl, Jolande, was also working. Richard described her as that rarest of creatures, a German with a sense of humour.

Seeing that Chris was a friend of Richard’s, she made some jokes with him, and hid his beer when he went into the kitchen to say, “Hi,” to the chef.

Unfortunately, she was the world’s worst at keeping a joke, and couldn’t help bursting out laughing after only a few seconds. But she earned points for the effort.

Later, as she walked into the kitchen, Chris heard a high-pitch shriek, and saw Jolande running out, chased by Richard who, by the position of his hands, had just grabbed her sides.

“What are you doing to her ?” laughed Chris.

“Tickling her, of course,” was the reply, as natural as possible.

After Richard’s shift, they sat and drank together, Jolande joining them as she ate her meal. Chris appeared happy and relaxed, but was clearly looking more cheerful than he actually felt.

By tacit agreement, they took the night buses to the Czar Bar.

Micha and Serge had the bar, and they tended to close relatively early. They didn’t exactly draw the crowds either, playing continuous Death Metal. Though they changed the CD’s periodically, the noise remained the same.

Walking along Rigaer Str, in the early hours, the outdoor lamp of The Czar Bar was usually the only beacon, though hardly of hope, as there may well have hung a sign above the door, ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter’. No one here gets out sober.

They opened the door, pushed aside the curtain and found two bar stools easily. The bar was mainly empty, the few drinkers dispersed to all corners.

After ordering two Becks and two vodkas, Chris got straight to the point.

“I have to win Monika back.”

He was expecting an evening of planning and scheming. He wasn’t prepared for Richard’s answer,

“Why ?”

It almost knocked Chris off his stool. When he finally spoke, it was defensive,

“I thought you liked Monika ?”

“I did. Do. But you and her together . . . I don’t think so.”

“Wow. Like . . . shit ! You mean it ?”

“Oh, yeah. Lovely girl, and you’re . . . OK, I suppose, but the two of you ? How many fights did you have ? How many times did you break up and get back together ? How many times did you come to me and ask what the fuck to do ?”

“You want individual figures or a combined total ?”

“C’mon. Every time you had to pay rent, it was problems.”

Chris knew only too well, as he had to walk to the flat of Ute’s friend, thus remaining in indirect contact with his ex-girlfriend.

“I know, it was a constant pain. And the work. When I left the Noodle Nuthouse, you hugged me, she almost cut my balls off. She wanted me to stay a Spüler. And then she hated that I was only a Spüler. Frauen !”

“What we need . . . is a new drink. The shots are gonna act too quickly.”

“I don’t think these bastards carry Pimms.”

“What we need is . . . “ Richard looked at the unimpressive, shabby collection of bottles. “Tequila. Tequila ? What goes with tequila ?”

“Cactus-smelling vomit. Wouldn’t mind a Run ‘n’ Coke.”

“Can’t see rum. Or Coke.”

“We’re gonna have to stick to beer and vodka, aren’t we ?”

“Looks like it,” agreed Richard.

There was a thud on the back door, then some keys desperate to find the lock. The door opened and something could be heard dragging itself in. Micha and Serge turned to each other and exchanged curses in Russian.

After some uncomfortable sounds, resembling a man being tossed from side to side in the corridors of a ship in a heavy storm, Jake appeared, somehow remaining upright in the entrance between vestibule and bar. He saw Chris and Richard and greeted them, hugging Chris from behind, but forgetting to let go.

Serge spoke in German, Jake answered and then stopped, as if suspended. He remained like this for some minutes, as the Russians started to close the bar, packing up the crates and chasing the drinkers out.

Richard began to leave, but Chris stopped him.

More talk between The Russians and Jake, then they left, shaking their heads and muttering. Jake screamed after them, half German, half English,

“Kein angst, alles klar (don’t worry, it’s all right) I’ll lock up. Ich habe der Schlüssel (I have the key.) You go to bed.” Then he turned to his two guests,

“You two guys need a drink ? ‘Cause I might have something in back. Don’t know, have to check. Have to check.”

Yet Jake remained standing and Chris had to lead him to the store room. Once inside, he made a series of pleasantly surprised sounds and returned, armed with beer bottles and a half bottle of Stolichnaya.

The remainder of the night was spent with Chris speaking about Monika, Richard speaking about Olga and Jake just speaking.

When Richard began working that night, he still had a hangover, which gradually faded, thanks to the endless coffees he drank. By the time his shift was over, he was in the mood for a drink, and, as luck would have it, Chris was helping Jake in the Czar Bar that night.

Love and Chaos Part 6(E) Arizona Al 1

10th May 2021

May be an image of 2 people and people smiling
East Berlin squat, mid 1990s

Part Six. Berlin. February 1995

Arizona Al had been at the club since late afternoon, setting up, sound checking, greeting acquaintances, sippin’ beer but mostly just hanging around and waiting.

The door to the club had been locked. Someone turned up, but didn’t have the key. He went to call a friend who should have the key. He returned after fifteen minutes, unable to reach him.

Other people came and went, all trying the door, surprised that it wouldn’t open under their special handle-turning techniques.

One fellow artist arrived, with acoustic guitar strapped to his back. He resembled the actor Willem Dafoe in ‘Platoon’, even wearing a white headband in the same manner of the actor in that film. He smiled, (he also had an impossibly wide mouth), tried the door and asked when it would be open.

“Yo ! Bryan ! Get yer arse over here,” Arizona called to a man who had just walked into the Hof from the street.

Bryan was medium height and stocky, and walked with real determination, as if he were always on a life or death mission.

Bryan looked at the door, wondering why no one had bothered to open it. He keep shaking it, until Willem Dafoe told him that he thought it was locked. Bryan had a very round face and hair that stuck out at all angles. His normal expression was one of complete shock at whatever was happening.

Bryan therefore appeared completely shocked at finding the door locked.

Two young men arrived, pushing a trolley loaded with beer crates, and there were sundry cries in German, but no key.

Then an American girl arrived, wearing a floral dress underneath a heavy army coat, and long red leather boots. She knew most of the people that were waiting outside as, by now, quite a crowd had built up. Willem Dafoe took out his guitar and strummed some chords, one or two men moved closer and moved their heads in rhythm. Another began singing, but it was a different song in a different key.

Finally Horst arrived, taking his time crossing the Hof, walking with a swagger, clearly stoned. He also tried the door, then stood back, smiling to himself, thinking.
“Ahhh.” He mumbled something in German, causing some curses, some laughter. Melissa, the American, translated. He had forgotten the key.

Within twenty minutes, the door was opened and the musicians and technicians and hangers-on and friends, and friends of friends and a few drunks, began pouring in.

A van backed into the Hof, people jumped out, shouting and laughing, and from the back doors, various amplifiers and boxes of cables were carried inside, Bryan seeming to be everywhere but doing nothing.

Arizona got his alloted time to soundcheck. Tonight he had decided to do what he called his ‘unplugged’ set, by which he meant just playing electric guitar and singing. Then he saw Jacques, Melissa’s French Canadian boyfriend, and called him over.

Jacques was a very pleasant chap, tall and cumbersome, with enormous feet that always found things to bump into and knock over, as if possessed by a will of their own, a pair of unruly dogs, forever going off chasing cats and rabbits.

They conferred and it was decided that Jacques would accompany him on one or two songs. They had done some stuff together before, Arizona singing, while Jacques intoned as counterpoint.

Arizona was shooed off stage as Willem Dafoe had to run through his list and the soundman had to change the levels for his acoustic guitar and adjust the mike stand, as Willem was barely five foot two on tiptoes.

People carried full beer crates in and empty ones out, Horst slumped at the bar, taking instructions from his staff. Melissa liaised between artists, walking around with pen and paper, trying to work out a schedule that meet with approval, a thankless task, as half the bands wanted to go on last, the other half preferring first.

Bryan appeared, and helped out Melissa with the indisputable assertion that they couldn’t all go on last, and after proclaiming this piece of sage wisdom, promptly found another problem to solve. Or create.

Typically, the gig was nowhere near ready by the advertised opening time, and several people had entered the bar, walking past the admission desk that no one was working. Some staff suggested they should all be thrown out, some said they should stay, but pay, some said they should stay, not pay, but not be allowed to buy drinks, some one else, quite possibly Bryan, suggested they should pay, and then be made to leave. In all events, nothing happened and because of this, most of them left, anyway.

Melissa, pleading, like an over-eager actress of the Method school, appealed to the room, that someone needs to be on the door. This led to discussions as to who’s turn it was, who wanted to do it and then, when a volunteer was found, no one knew where the cash box was. There wouldn’t be enough change for the bar and the door, as the entrance was an inconvenient three Marks, and everyone would be paying with five-Mark coins.

The obvious suggestion was to raise the entrance to five Marks, but this was vetoed. Bryan thought that anyone who had the exact change should get in free, but failed to see the flaw in his solution.

By now more people were coming in, as no one had closed the door.

It was at this point that Richard and Chris arrived, not noticing the desk or even knowing about the admission fee.

They saw Arizona Al in a crowd of people, and went up to him to say Hi, then left him to ‘get his shit together’, as Chris put it, and planted themselves at the bar, where they intended to stay all night.

The subject of Monika naturally dominated the conversation and Chris, despite the bravado and carefree attitude, was really scared that he had lost her. He opened up to Richard that there had been conversations about work and getting more settled in Berlin, maybe going on a language course and getting a proper respectable job.

“What’s the probability of any of the above happening ?” asked Richard.

“Not good.”

Chris drank quietly, and Richard was reminded of the time in London just before he was set to leave for Berlin. He was about to ask him if he had any regrets about leaving the UK, when Bryan popped up behind the bar, starred at both of them in turn, then went off to join the crowd around Arizona.

“What in the name of fuck . . . ?” began Chris, more electroshocked than recalled back to life.

“Where did that goddamn thing come from ?”

“Fucking Cheshire Cat face, out of nowhere.”

“Oh, look, he’s a friend of Al’s,” said Richard, indicating the two of them in an embrace. There was quite a crowd in the centre and both of them noticed a number of very attractive girls. Willem Dafoe was dwarfed by an icy blonde in cocktail dress, who held a Sekt glass without ever drinking from it, and maintaining an aloof distance from everyone.

Melissa was running around stressed, as the running order was still in a state of flux. To end the impasse, and making it clear it was an immense favour he was doing, Willem deigned to open proceedings.

He walked on stage to the applause of the organisers and fellow artists, and complete indifference of everyone else. Until, that is, the icy blonde joined him. She took up position at the back of the stage, and, with a disparaging look at the Mike stand, made a willing young man adjust it up to her height, and bring it the necessary inches closer to her mouth, rather than have to walk towards it.

She was pure class.

Willem Dafoe began playing. The first song was a slow ballad of no apparent melody. He would hit a chord, then sing, following it by a gentle up-down strum and lots of moaning. He hit another chord, thought about hitting another, but hung his hand in the air and turned his head to the side, before letting it fall across the strings. Meanwhile, the icy blonde was making some kind of droning background noise.

The ‘song’ finished some minutes later. The solitary voice of Melissa could be heard, saying,

“Beautiful, beautiful.”

Then the other performers clapped, some worried that the opening act had set too high a standard.

The second song had a different title, but was pretty much the same, from tunelessness to theatricality to Melissa’s not so convincing appraisal.

When the third number started, showing no indication of variance, Chris turned to Richard and, appropriating the famous line from the movie ‘Jaws’, said,

“We’re gonna need a bigger bar.” Then he raised his hand to get the barman’s attention, “Alcohol !”

A woman singer songwriter was next, listenable for a song or two, but she also outstayed her welcome. After she finished, a section of the crowd left, and this pattern was repeated for each subsequent act. Friends came to lend support, then, duty done, made a beeline for the door. Quickly.

“When the fuck’s that cunt on ?” asked Chris, his tolerance worn away by ineptitude.

“Look, there he is again. What the fuck is he doing ? I mean, really ! What the fuck is he doing ?”

Richard was referring to Bryan who was criss-crossing the room, appearing behind the mixing desk, the bar, the stage and all points in-between. Now he was standing in the centre of the room, was wasn’t very full, shouting to the mixing desk. The man behind the desk did nothing, the volume of the between-set music changed not an iota, but Bryan was happy, giving the thumbs-up sign.

“Oh, thank fuck, he’s going on,” said Chris, seeing Arizona getting up on stage and plugging in his guitar.

The house music cut abruptly, Arizona introduced himself and made some comments as the sound level rose and fell and fed-back. Bryan naturally appeared and shouted.

When the last of the feedback had faded, Arizona began and played a mid tempo number, jiving around as he played. Richard and Chris were both happily surprised as it was quite good. After the song, while people were still clapping, Arizona announced that it was a cover, of a little known American band from Phoenix. The next songs were his own but failed to elicit the same response, or, by the fourth number, any response, bar Richard and Chris at the bar.

Chris lent over,

“This is terrible. He’s dying up there.”

“I know. Now what the fuck’s happening ?”

Jacques plodded on-stage, unknown to Arizona, who had his back to him, and when he turned around to face the audience, was nearly knocked over. Chris covered his face with his hands and let out a moan, that everyone heard.

They performed two numbers. In the first, Jacques merely stood in the back, and made some backing vocals, repeating key lines of the lyrics. In the second, the two engaged in a kind of comedy routine for introduction, about what to do in Berlin, and Jacques suggesting they go to the Thursday Bar, a well known alternative music venue bar, also in south Prenzlauer Berg, but Arizona said that they couldn’t go there, causing Jacques to inquire why not and being told by Arizona that today was Saturday and therefore . . . not open.

“I’ve gotta do something. This is worse than I imagined.”

Richard had no idea what Chris was planning, and at that point, neither had Chris, but something had to be done, and a far, far better thing than what they were being subjected to now.


Jacques left the stage and there was an assumption that the set was over, so there was a ripple of applause, but that immediately died when Arizona began a new number. Richard felt Chris push past him and walk towards the stage, then vanish.

Arizona began playing, when suddenly, at the very back of the stage, Richard could see Chris, moving from left to right in profile, in measured, theatrical steps, pausing before each new stride.

Arizona was unaware.

Chris turned, froze, then began walking in the same mechanical manner towards the singer.

Arizona was sensing an increase in audience interest, so began dancing a bit as he played. As Chris copied his motions, in his own singular style, the crowd clapped and laughed, inspiring Arizona to cut loose and skip around. Everyone was at least looking at the stage, and mostly smiling, except Bryan who looked completely bewildered, not to say shocked.

That’s when Arizona noticed Chris, but, like a true professional, carried on playing. Chris then stood in front of Arizona and sank to his knees, making gestures towards Arizona’s guitar that in his naivety, Richard at first failed to comprehend. Then he thought back to watching Bowie with Mick Ronson on guitar, Jim Morrison with Robbie Krieger, and understood.

It had certainly livened up the performance, and people assumed it was all part of the act. Chris was more than happy to stand on stage with Arizona Al and take the applause.

Later, at a table, Arizona told of his initial thoughts on seeing Chris coming towards him,

“You know, what with the lights and shit, and my eyesight being bad, I couldn’t see who or what it was, then when you began pulling that faggot Ziggy Stardust shit, I thought, OK, motherfucker, you wanna play, I’ll play, suck on this, arsehole!”

There were several people around them, including Melissa and Jacques, Bryan and a couple of German girls who had stumbled in, attracted by the noise.

“Yeah, thinking of adding some Nirvana covers to my set, couldn’t do it before because everyone was doing it, but, you know, it’ll be a year since Kurt blew himself away, time’s ripe. But I don’t wanna play the obvious ones, you know, thought I’d go for some cuts of the last album, as that was the direction he was going in.”

“Good idea,” agreed Richard. “What songs ?”

“’Numb’, ‘Black-Shaped Box’. You know ?”


Neither Richard nor Chris had the heart (shaped box) to correct him.
Not that it mattered either way to the two girls. They sat down when Melissa and Jacques left and began speaking in English.

Richard thought that here were two girls and two guys without girlfriends, but the girls were quite blatant in their interest for the performers, the performers only, whose stage antics had obviously made quite an impression.

Feeling tired, and like a third-wheel, as usual, Richard decided to leave, telling Chris he’ll see him later, and congratulating Arizona on a great gig.

The girls suggested Jägermeister shots, a German digestif spirit. This was followed by more beers and more shots and before long, Arizona and Chris were enjoying the time honoured tradition of the rock ‘n’ roll groupie.

Arizona was the first to leave, with his new friend, while Chris was determined to drink more Jägermeister, furious that no one had told him before about this wonderful new drink.

After some more shots and beers, he too went back with his first fan.

They got a taxi on Invalidenstrasse and kissed all the way, the driver, working weekend nights in Berlin, quite used to it.

Chris followed the girl into her apartment building, up the stairs in the Vor Haus (front house) and went inside with her. She left him in her kitchen as she went to the bathroom and told him to help himself to a drink. He found some wine, but no corkscrew, and walked into the hall to ask her where one may be found. He passed a door, slightly ajar and did a double take and refocus as, through the gap, he could see a topless Arizona Al, sitting up in bed, smoking, and staring back at him.

Love and Chaos Part 5(J) Sylvester 1

4th May 2021

photo by Martin O’Shea 2021

Part Five. Berlin. New Year’s Eve 1994 / 5

Arizona Al stood in his doorway open mouthed as, one after another, beautiful young women filed past him and walked into his flat.

After Melanie had entered, Chris just had to hang back and look at Arizona, who was only just recovering the power of speech, though what he was saying was hardly intelligible.

The girls, dressed for a party and then some, were taking over, lifting things up, investigating corners, opening cupboards.

No objections was raised.

Arizona’s flat was larger than Chris’ and most of the living room was taken up with keyboards, guitars, microphones, wires and cables.

Monika began pretending to play one keyboard, while Lorelei took up a guitar and began moving like a rock chick, strumming away. Gabi, not to be left out, picked up a bottle, in preference to an actual mic, and started belting out some numbers.

With the men joining in by clapping, only Melanie remained outside the clique, but nobody noticed.

Chris finished up with some extra claps,

“So, Al, do you have anything to drink ?”

“Errr, well, I dunno, errr ..”

“Ya don’t do ya ? What a rock ‘n’ roller you are,” laughed Chris.

“I thought we were going out, otherwise, I’d a gotten something in.”

“All I’m gonna say is that Sylvester in Arizona . . . think I’ll pass.”

Then Gabi, after a little private conversation with Lorelei, said,

“Yes, we must go, but . . . first ?”

“All right!” said Chris

“Let’s go!” added Richard.

“What ?” asked Al.

Monika repeated her mime and Al seemed a little shocked, but thought it over and agreed.

Monika took him into the bathroom first, then Chris, finally Lorelei. Gabi went in with Richard, Melanie again abstaining.

Richard had tried cocaine once or twice before, but apart from the thrill of sniffing through a large denomination bank note, hadn’t really felt any effect. Even before, in Chris’, he couldn’t really say he’d gotten any kick.

This time, however, was different. For a start, being alone in a small room with Gabi was incredibly erotic. Gabi, despite her angelic and rather bourgeois appearance, was totally at home in a stranger’s bathroom, her delicate fingers dividing the small pile into two thin white dukes. She bent down first, the cramped space meaning that they were touching all the time. She passed the note to Richard and after he had snorted, she showed him some extra touches. The first was to get a little drop of water on the finger and to snort, thus catching any stray bits of powder. Then she showed him how to scoop up any particles from the seat, and rubbed his teeth with it, then, using the same finger, inserted it deep into her own mouth and rubbed it along her gums, finishing up with a lick of the lips.

The temptation to just grab and kiss her was overwhelming, and he could have blamed the drugs, the Sekt or the occasion, she may have even liked it, but, instead, he did nothing, and they went back to the main room.

Still, with his heart beating faster and maintaining a good feeling from the Sekt, he began thinking more about Gabi. It may be a cure to get over one unrequited relationship, by embarking upon another.

The room was full of nervous excitement, Chris jumping around, Lorelei and Gabi trying on some of Arizona’s coats, when Melanie opened her bag and pulled out a little notebook, which she opened and passed to Richard.

“These are some notes for my dissertation, if you want to read them.”

As she put the book directly in his hand, and out of an embarrassed politeness, Richard began scanning the pages, once again drawn away from the core. Once again, he noticed that Chris all but ignored her.

Al was putting the finishing touches to his outfit, despite Chris’ suggestions that he really ‘mix it up’ tonight, and went with crocodile skin shoes, green cords and, over layers of vaguely Medieval-looking jerkins, wore a black coat/cloak and lopsided hat, that had everyone wondering where he could possibly have unearthed ?

“Hey, look what I found,” he said, holding a bottle of Cognac. “Found it under my bed. Who’d like some ?”

The general consensus was that they should be leaving. Monika asked to use the phone to book taxis, but Al had a better idea.

“No, Man, we can ride the trolley. Be fun, all the young dudes dressed up. Straight ride to Warschauer Str.”

Ten minutes later, The Gang were waiting, along with a crowd of other people, at the Strassebahn stop on Eberswalder Str, where an impromptu party of sorts was taking place, strangers passing around bottles of Sekt or cans of beer, some were singing, others dancing, some jumping up and down, either to the beat or simply to keep warm.

The Gang, with the exception of Melanie, joined in, Richard extending his arm to take in the scene,

“The beat goes on, Berlin goes on!”

Chris jumped around, pretending to be taking pictures with an invisible camera and everyone joined in, striking poses, some girls blowing kisses, which didn’t impress Monika, and she made him stop.

A loud cheer arose when the yellow light of the Strassebahn appeared out of the misty black, mixing with the continual beeps and honks of cars, and distant fireworks and firecrackers. It became, as Arizona had predicted, a party on tracks, the passengers hanging off the poles and draping themselves over the seats, men offering their laps to previously unknown girls, one or two men swinging from the hand straps.

At every stop, at least one person took it upon himself to announce the station, while others mimicked the sharp, loud beeps that indicated doors closing.

By journey’s end, nearly everyone had joined in, announcing the stops and beeping, so much so, that the old and sober driver kept looking back into his vehicle, wondering how it was possible to have so much fun in a tram, his bemused shake of the head seeming to say, “Kids !”

From Warschauer Str, they walked along Boxhagener Str and turned right into Simon Dach Str.

Gabi had the address and Richard was happy to follow her, wondering if the intimacy of the bathroom would be repeated. At the same time, he was doing his best not to look too much at Lorelei who without any effort, was just looking sensational. But he knew the futility of those thoughts.

There was a moment of confusion, as Gabi realised she had the wrong or incomplete address and Arizona suggested that they just follow people and see where they ended up. Eventually, Gabi turned up another piece of paper that gave the correct location.

The first stop was a combination party / exhibition of local artists. It took place on the top floor of a converted studio, overlooking the dark, slightly ominous rail tracks of Warschaeur Str.

It was one large, open room, with photos and painting hanging up, some metal objects placed strategically, or randomly, and a band area. As they entered, they saw three men with headphones standing behind banks of equipment, playing some mellow Techno. Neither Chris nor Richard were especially keen on the music in general, and couldn’t understand how people could buy the records and play them at home, but tonight, everything seemed to fall into place and they, perhaps inadvertently, began moving to the beat, causing Richard to reiterate,

“The beat goes on, Berlin goes on!”

Causing Chris to reply,

“Berlin goes on, the beat goes on!”

Arizona overheard and joined them,

“Yeah, you know, I’m starting to really get into this Techno scene. If Bowie were here, he’d be mixing Techno into his stuff.”

Richard noticed that Melanie had sat down on some steps and that Monika had gone over to her with two glasses and was trying to start a conversation. Even from his distance, he could see that Melanie was only answering in monosyllables and had refused the drink.

Gabi and Lorelei were dancing, which led to a sudden increase of men onto the dance floor. The Gang took a cursory look at the art work.

One set of photos were of famous sights in Berlin, but shot through a green filter, ‘to challenge society’s perception of the colour green’, the artist explained. Another section grabbed Arizona’s attention. In a small enclave, one wall had various items cut in half and glued onto it. The opposite wall has similar items, but whereas the first had noticeably German items, the second had iconic American ones.

In the German wall was half a football, in the other, half an American football. Half a can of German beer was mirrored by half a can of an American brand and so on.

The artist, an elder man with grey hair and beard, wearing a peace necklace and sandals, was showing Arizona around. Al especially liked the toy Trabant and it’s antithesis, half a toy Cadillac.

The Techno finished and four men began setting up, more keyboards and amplifiers and some unusual hybrids of instruments.

One of the four seemed to be significantly older than the rest, one of whom was very thin and tall, another short and fat, the last hobbling around on crutches.

After an endless vortex of activity, with them all changing position and plugging various wires into various sockets, they began to play.

Gabi made an immediate face of disgust at the experimental noise that it took four deadly earnest and focused men to produce.

Monika made gestures to Lorelei and Chris, then came over to Richard to shout in his ear,

“OK, Richard, now we go!”

The Gang walked up to the U-Bahn to catch the U 5 to Alex. Richard found himself next to Lorelai, who was holding herself against the merciless cold. Instinctively, he took off his coat and put it over her shoulders. Gabi thought it was incredibly sweet and chivalric.

Next stop was a club in Kreuzberg. The U-Bahns were running and would be, all night, but not so frequently, and they had a long wait on the U8 platform for their connection. So long, that, as they looked at the station clocks, they knew that they had no chance getting to the club by Midnight. In fact, they celebrated the New Year on the platform, hugging, kissing and shaking hands, to the outside sounds that managed to penetrate down. Chris took Monika and gave her a long kiss. Melanie looked on, in disgust, and said, perhaps louder than intended, perhaps not,

“Oh, that’s not allowed.”

And then the train came.

They got out at Moritzplatz, the men again happy to just follow the girls, Melanie tagging along and Richard was getting increasingly irritated at being her chaperone.

The club was a red-lit bar, with tables around the side and a large bar in the centre. In the back was the dance floor which was dark and smoky and exciting and inviting and promising.

Richard sat down, beers arrived and then, another invitation. Monika sat next to him, after a similar conspiracy with Gabi and Chris, and asked him,

“Ah, Richard, would you like to take half an ‘E’ with me ?”

“Of course.” A confident voice masking that he had never even dreamt of taking such a pill before.

Monika handed him half a tablet, already prepared, which he washed down with a swig of beer.

“This will make me want to kiss people, right ?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“And will they kiss me back ?”

Monika smiled and shrugged her shoulder.

“Maybe.”

She then went on to Melanie, who again rejected the offer.

Richard sat back and thought about Gabi on ‘E’ and how the New Year could get off to a worse start than kissing her all night. Then he thought about Lorelai on ‘E’. What better night to kiss ?

He began to feel himself smiling, and was unable to control it, nor did he want to, as everybody else was smiling. Everyone except Melanie. He asked her how she was,

“Pretty bored, actually.”

There was a mass movement towards the back room for dancing, with Arizona electing to sit with Melanie. As Richard went into the back, he turned and thought he saw her offer Al a small notebook to read.

By now, the pill had kicked in and it seemed as if everyone was on the same vibe, half as many people kissing as dancing.

Chris came over, put his arm around Richard, gave him a kiss on the cheek and shouted,

“More beer.” It was a demand, rather than a question.

Back at the table, smiling at all around, strangers sharing a similar high, Richard shouted at Melanie,

“C’mon, Mel, shake your money maker !”

“What does that mean ?” she hissed, not hiding her contempt, hatred and anger.

But it was too late for Richard to care and everyone was relieved when she decided to leave. There were one or two concerned questions about her knowing the way, with Chris not hiding the fact that as long as she went, he didn’t care where she ended up.

Some time later, it being hard to gauge with the constant dark lighting and drug and alcohol highs, The Gang began to disperse. Gabi and Lorelei headed back to the west, after prolonged hugs and kisses. Chris then was staying nearby with Monika, so it as just Arizona and Richard. They had been dancing, smiling, hugging, but for Richard the only kiss was the friendly slobber on his cheek from Chris.

After another and final beer, Mexican, as homage to Al’s South-Western roots, which they sipped slowly and really enjoyed, they thought about leaving, both having to get back north of the river, to Prenzlauer Berg.

They spoke constantly, and could have stayed in the bar, which by now was thinning out, all night, or at least until the ‘E’ wore off, but decided to go. Should they happen to stumble upon a bar, on the way, there was no reason why they shouldn’t go in.

Arizona admired the reasoning, and they left, shocked by the early morning light, but after their eyes got acclimatised, they felt refreshed on the empty, light blue streets, with a fresh wind blowing them along to the U-Bahn as they stepped through a tangle of old streamers and firework cases and bottles and cigarette packets and cans.

On the U2 from Alex, during a momentary lull in the conversation, as Arizona looked around at the other casualties of the night, Richard turned to him and said,

“It’s all right for you. I’ve Melanie to go back to!”

Arizona doubled up in laughter, which proved infectious as most of the other awake passengers joined in, most of them having no idea why they were laughing.

Arizona reached over and slapped Richard on the knee,

“Ya wanna crash at my place ?”

“Oh, man . . . can I ?”

Al’s laughter doubled.

At the same time on Chausser Strasse in Wedding, Daniel Roth was walking home with two English work mates and a Dutch bricklayer.

Of the four, it was only Daniel who was new to the city, having only arrived two days earlier, and he was due to start work on the Second, by which time, he calculated, his hangover may just be over.

Love and Chaos Part 5(H) Richard 2

22nd April 2021

Konzerthaus Berlin, on Gendarmenmarkt, in the Mitte district.

photo by Martin O’Shea 2021

Part Five. Berlin. Winter 1994

Chris arrived home a little after three in the morning, being quiet, but not too quiet, hoping that if Richard were awake, he could tell him about the new look Czar Bar and how he had seen Jake, Gaptooth and a new German who looked exactly like David Hockney.

He opened the door to the main room, the light from the hall casting a dramatic beam straight up to Richard, arms sprawled, head at an awkward angle, half undressed, not moving, a quilt partially covering him but not a sound.

Chris’ heart stopped. He immediately sobered up and ran to the body, reaching for the pulse and holding his hand in front of the nostrils. The wrist pulsated, the back of Chris’ hand was chilled by breathe.

He got up and looked in the kitchen, turning on the light without any danger of waking Richard. There, on the table, were seven or eight cans of cheap beer, most of them empty and crushed. Then he looked in the bin, and there were three of four more empties.

Chris walked back into the room and did his best to make Richard comfortable, taking off the one shoe he still wore, his watch, in case he caught himself, and put the quilt fully over him, as the Ofen was going out and the room was getting cold.

He stoked up the Ofen and went to sit in the kitchen, taking one of the remaining beers and calmly drinking until his heart could return to a normal rhythm.

It had stirred up a painful memory, one that had haunted his childhood.

At eight or nine, Chris had found his elder sister on the bathroom floor, vomiting and screaming. Not knowing what to do, he just cried and went to hold her, joining in her screams.

And then he felt her slip away.

He sat with her until his parents came home, who told him that she had eaten too many sweets and was now sleeping, aware that this simply wasn’t true, that something very, very bad had happened, but not knowing why or what, except that he really did know what, but would never know why.

Sitting in his Berlin kitchen, sipping the gassy, tasteless beer, his heart still pounding, Chris was unaware that he was crying.

Richard had seemed so happy. He had been dancing around the flat, not complaining about the sudden drop in temperature which would mean another six months of chopping wood, wearing coats indoors and going into the cellar for briquettes.

He had caused a minor sensation at work, by thanking the staff when they brought him dirty plates and singing along to the radio. He was speaking to Chris about Biberkopf one night at the Ankor.

“It’s always on the same station,” he said of the work radio, ”and they only have about fifty records, which they play in various sequences. There’s a few classics, a few modern hits, and a whole bunch of shit. As for those new Elton John songs, postcards and that bloody cat …”

“That’s not Elton John. I know who you mean and it’s some American asshole.”

“Really ? Well, whatdoyaknow ? Oh, I heard that Crash Test Dummies song, you know the one ? Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm ? Fucking freaky goddamn lyrics, kids with weird birthmarks, and white hair. Never heard it before, but there was this drunk guy in London who was humming it on the tube, late one night. Actually it’s a really good song. Can’t stop humming it, myself. Oh, and what’s that Bryan Ferry song about Berlin ? Non-stop Berlin ?”

Chris looked puzzled, then understood.

“Oh, I know what you mean and every word is wrong ! Nearly every word. It’s ‘Don’t Stop The Dance’.”

“Think I prefer my version.”

“Me, too. More appropriate.”

And they burst into an impromptu rendition, much to the surprise of the cute, ginger-haired waitress, who clearly wasn’t impressed.

“I was thinking,” began Richard, “we should have a culture night, The Gang. I was looking through Tip at work, (Tip is one of two listing magazines, the other being Zitty. Both cover a two week period and come out alternate weeks. Tip is the glossier of the two) and there are so many concerts going on. Classical concerts and Opera. Looks quite cheap, too.”

Chris leant back, drank some beer and thought.
“All right. Yeah. A night at the Opera. Let’s go.”

He got up and went to the magazine rack, taking the copy of Zitty (which was favoured by the alternative scene) and opened it to the music pages.

“Here, the Komische Oper, ‘Strange, or funny Opera’. They perform in German, I think. Yeah. Hey, look … Thursday and, yeah, great, Saturday, Carmen by Bizet. I could dig that.”

“You know Bizet never went to Spain ?”

“Would that be true ?”

“Aye, it would.”

“Well, I say. I’m gonna file that under ‘interesting but also boring facts’.”

“Well, you do what ya gotta do.”

The following Saturday, Monika, Chris, Gabi, Lorelei, Arizona Al and Richard all met in the foyer of the theatre. Arizona was last to arrive, and turned up in knee length purple boots, dark green velvet trousers, an old, brown leather flying jacket, and floppy hat, a thin, wooden instrument strung across his back.

He bounded into the theatre, jumping up the steps. He got quite a few interested and happy looks, and even gave a small performance, singing ‘Ring of Fire’ on his curious contraption.

“Hey, like my dulcimer ? Pretty cool, hey ? I did some busking on the U-Bahn earlier and made enough to pay for my ticket.”

The coat-check girl was also amused by the dulcimer as Arizona handed it to her, along with his hat and slightly effeminate, small shoulder bag.

Richard had the tickets and led them into the auditorium, finding the six seats, and was a little put out that Arizona sat down next to Lorelei, leaving him on the outside.

They all looked around the hall, admiring the décor and the atmosphere. The musicians could be heard tuning up, but were out of sight. Arizona Al lifted himself up, straining to see where the music was coming from, and turning to Richard, asked him,

“Hey, where’s the orchestra ?”


“In the pit.”

Arizona couldn’t contain himself, but jumped up and down in his seat, pounding the arms of the chair and inadvertently bashing into Lorelei.

“Hey, listen up, man, I just asked Richard where the orchestra was, and he said, ‘in the pit’. Orchestra pit ! I never knew what that meant before !”

They all enjoyed the show, Arizona especially, who watched it with a child’s innocence, and Richard was continuously nudged, poked and slapped.

After, they went to a bar in the old Nikolaiviertal, one of the oldest areas of Berlin, recently made over and gentrified, but still retaining a definite charm, due to the river Spree forming the western border, and the imposing, brick, twin-spired Nikolaikirche dominating the cobbled-streets of quaint shops and bars.

Gabi meet a friend, Heike, who worked in stage design and had also seen the new production of Carmen.

Chris said, “Oh, hey, did you know, Bizet, the guy who wrote it, never even went to Spain ? Isn’t that just the craziest ?”

The Gang all found this very interesting, and when Richard turned to look at Chris, he saw him lower his eyes and hastily take a long gulp of beer.

Before Richard left for work on Monday, he met Chris, just back from the studio who informed him,

“Arizona had a great time. Told me he made a connection with Heike.”

“Oh, you mean they got on well ?” asked Richard.

“No, dude, he fucked her. Twice, apparently. Said it was his first … ‘connection’ in Berlin.”

“Ah, yes, he broke his duck.”

“He wants to go out with us, again.”

“I bet he does. We’re not his pimps, you know.”

“You mean procurers ? Never mind. You know what’s opening this week ? Pulp Fiction ! The new Tarantino !”

“Man, I’ve been counting the days, big time.”

“We can all go, Saturday. It’ll be at the Odeon, English version with Kraut text.”

“I have to get to my terrible job now, but you get The Gang onto it. That is your mission, should you choose to accept it.”

Chris saluted, as Richard made his way to the elevated U-Bahn station and waited on the chilly platform for the westbound train.

So Arizona had made his first conquest. Chris had already been with a couple of girls, but, so far, Richard had struck out. But he was waiting. Lorelei had left her boyfriend. Maybe he had played at least some small part in her decision ? She had sent over messages, had come to the Opera and he was sure she was expecting him to sit next to her. At the end of the night, she had kissed him on the cheek, and held his arm. He took all this as a sign that he only had to be patient and the girl he was so in love with would be his.

However, only Arizona, Chris, Monika and Richard made it to the cinema. Gabi wanted to see it in German and Lorelei was going with her.

Again, Richard was next to Arizona in the cinema but, once he realized Lorelei wasn’t coming, due to a choice of languages, he sat back, swigged his beer and waited for the excitement to begin. They had been surprised at the cast: John Travolta ? Bruce Willis ?

But from the opening scenes in the diner, and the title music, they knew they were in for one hell of a ride.

The twist contest took place, Richard digging Arizona in the ribs,

“Hey, this cat can really dance.”

Arizona jumped up and pointed to the T-shirt Tarantino was wearing in the kitchen scene, as he recognized the logo and began telling a story about it, making Richard miss untold lines.

The highlight of the night, however, occurred in the last diner scene. The Samuel L. Jackson character has a wallet embossed with the legend, ‘Bad Motherfucker’. The German translation for this, when it appeared, full screen in a classic Tarantino close-up, was, ‘Böser Schwarzer Mann’ (Angry Black Man.)The entire cinema erupted into spontaneously laughter.

From that point on, they re-enacted lines of dialogue and added new words to their vocabulary.

Every time a customer ordered mayonnaise with chips, Richard let out an, ‘Errrchh, they fuckin’ drown ‘em in that shit, I seen ‘em do it!’, to the total mystery of the east German chef.

One night Richard got a call at work. It was Lorelei. She said that Monika was over at the nearby Café Haller, and was wondering if he wanted to come over, when he’d finished his shift.

He worked at double speed the remainder of the evening.

As clean and fresh as possible after a five hour shift in a hot kitchen, he walked over to the bar where Lorelei had started working. She was finishing up her shift, adding up her dockets, and gave Richard a hug, as he cried out how good it was to see her.

As he looked over, he saw Monika waving from a far table. Next to her was a man in a leather jacket. Lorelei explained that it was ‘only’ Werner, a really nice, harmless customer, who was keeping Monika company and keeping the leeches away. She told him to go sit, and she’d send a beer over, and gave him such a lovely smile and wink.

Monika stood up to hug and kiss Richard and Lorelei came over to sit next to Werner. He appeared to be in his mid thirties and had tight curly hair that looked one moment blonde, the next brown. He had rather protruding eyes and slightly buck teeth, but was very friendly and pleasant, the kind of guy you can always depend on to help move furniture, or pick you up from a distant location.

Richard tried speaking in German, which was improving, but still very basic. Lorelei said that it was cute to hear him, so he continued, as long as possible. At one point, he saw Werner look at him, with the kind of look that said, ‘how can two fucks like us be with two beautiful women like these ?’

Before Richard had finished his first beer, Werner said he had to leave, and Richard shook his hand like he was an old friend.

And then it all went wrong.

Lorelei looked at Richard, smiled and got up as well.

Richard thought that he would be the one, finally, to leave with Lorelei.


Instead, she turned to him and held out her hand. They shook, then she went over to Monika, kissed her goodbye, and left. With Werner.

Richard slumped down, feeling lifeless and humiliated and just plain lost.

“I’m never going to be with Lorelei, am I ?” was his rhetorical question.

Monika slowly shook her head, looking at him with real concern, not knowing what to say, and began to feel both uncomfortable and genuinely hurt, as if she could not only sense, but physically feel his pain.

She offered to drive him home, and suggested they go somewhere to drink in Prenzlauer Berg. He agreed and she almost had to help him out of the bar and into her car.

As they drove, Richard thanked her for everything, and told her that he’d be all right. He asked her to drop him by an U-Bahn station, where there would be an Imbiss open and he could buy some beer. It was better if he were alone, but he told Monika that Chris was at home.

She let him out and he waved her on. He didn’t want her to see him buying as many cans as he could carry.

Love and Chaos Part 5(F) Tommy 1

9th April 2021

Photo by Niall Keohane. Follow Niall on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/flatwoundonfilm/

Part Five. Berlin. Autumn 1994

The yellow Toyota sped around the twisting, turning slalom of roadworks and diversions of Potsdammer Platz, once the busiest intersection in all Europe, now a giant wasteland, a massive construction site of cranes, wire fences and wooden walkways, constantly changing passages with temporary traffic lights and signs whose location seemed to alter weekly.

Monika and Chris were in the front, Chris back to his hyper-active self, holding conversations with Richard in the back, Monika to his left and Sabrina, next to Richard. She was a Viennese friend of Monika’s, in Berlin for the weekend.

They drove to an address off Kantstr, in West Berlin. It was dark when they got there, but the affluence of the area was apparent. The houses were elegant and well kept, each house with a well-lit doorway, giving the street a charming, old-world feel. The streets all looked clean, no debris or litter of any kind.

There was a brass panel with the tenants names inscribed, on the intercom, but it was obvious where the party was.

All three rooms, of the ground floor flat, had their windows wide open, and many people could be seen in shadowplay through the thin curtains. The street door was open, as was the flat door, and people came and went, sat on the immaculately carpeted stairs or smoked on the street, their discarded butts the only garbage on the once spotless pavement.

Monika entered first, waving and smiling. Sabrina followed, embracing Gabi and Andreas. Chris noticed Nice Guy Kai and Richard caught a glimpse of Gert and they exchanged some brief comments before Gert disappeared for the night.

The four newcomers all gravitated to the kitchen, which was the bar area, and bought white wines. Richard had no sooner taken his first sip, when he felt a stubbly kiss on his cheek. He turned and saw Tommy wearing a very smart suit, four days growth of beard and a hat covering his newly shaved head.


“Ah, you’re still here ? I thought you’d gone back to London.”

Tommy had lived some time in The States and spoke very good English, with a Transatlantic accent. He was busy making the rounds, greeting and kissing everyone he knew and trying his luck with a few girls, he didn’t.

“Have you seen the art ?” he asked. “Come on, you may as well.”

Tommy led Richard and Chris to the last room, the smallest of the three, which was covered in paintings. The artists, predominantly young women between eighteen and twenty, stood around, in front of their work, happy to discuss it, happier still to sell any of it.

Nothing particularly grabbed the attention of Richard or Chris. Tommy swaggered around, looking left and right and winking at some of the artists. Nice Guy Kai took his time, casting a critical eye over the work on display. He was joined by Andreas, who merely laughed at everything.

Most of the paintings were abstract, some being little more than masses of colour, others featuring various large shapes, super-imposed on indistinct backgrounds. One woman had a series of shapes that vaguely resembled female genitalia, all with different colour schemes.

Back in the kitchen, over the next glass of wine, Tommy proclaimed, making sure everyone could hear him,

“I liked the colour pussies. Might get one for my wall.”

Most of the guests were of student age, being either artists or friends of artists. Richard continued looking around, while Monika came over and explained:

“In the second room is going to be some poetry and reading and performance, then in the big room, there is going to be music and poetry.”

Richard and Chris stood by the door of the second room, which had a stage area and some chairs laid out, giving it a theatrical look.

A very tall and thin, obvious-student man got up and after introducing himself very quietly, launched into a recitation of an original piece. Neither Richard nor Chris understood the text, so they went back to the bar. Shortly after, Gabi came over, rolling her eyes disapprovingly at the rendition. She leant on Richard’s shoulder so as to whisper in his ear,

“It is lucky you not speak the good German.”

He smiled at her, and offered her a refill. She accepted and then continued,

“Lorelei says, ‘Hello’. She could not come tonight because … “ and then she was lost for words, so turned to Chris for translation.

“Ah, alles klar. Lorelei is still unpacking, but she sends greetings. There you go. More cheap, nasty plonk ?”

After half an hour, the poetry readings were over, and more people came into the kitchen. Richard asked Sabrina what she thought of it,

“Ach, it was shit. Real student, ‘nobody loves me’ shit.”

The second room was cleared of its chairs and the space opened up for people to dance in. Meanwhile, the third room was being made ready for the live music. Chris, expecting a band of sorts, grabbed Richard to show him the peculiar preparations being carried out.

The stage area had a cello on its side and two chairs. To the left of the stage was a type of sandbox, only filled with gravel. A tall, young man, with an enormous eagle-like head and full, black beard, was meticulously scraping and re-scraping the tiny stones with a wooden fork, appearing very unhappy with the results. He began shouting to the corner of the room, then back to his scrapping, then back shouting. Nothing seemed to alter, nothing seemed to please him, so Richard and Chris they left him to his endeavours, to watch girls dance.

Tommy came up behind them and put an arm around each of their shoulders, smiling as he watched Gabi move. Monika reached out her hand and Chris was only too happy to oblige, deliberately dancing out of time to the innocuous Euro-pop that was being played.

Tommy looked at Gabi, then at Richard.

“That, my friend, is one great piece of arse. Got yourself a German girl, yet ?”

“Not yet, but I’m working on it.”

“How about Gabi ?”

“Out of my league. Just look at her.”

“I am, I am. Have you seen her boyfriend ? A real zero, nothing. He must have been born in the Chinese Year of the Boar. Doesn’t even fuck her, can you believe it ? Has that next to him in bed and all he wants to do is read fishing magazines. She’s desperate.”

“Desperate enough for you ?” joked Richard.

“Hey, I could have her if I wanted to. Probably. Maybe.”

“If she were drunk enough.”

“Oh, English humour, so very funny. Well, wanna make it interesting ?”

“What do you have in mind ?”

“A bet; who can get inside Gabi’s panties first. Hey, to hell with it, who can get inside Gabi, first.”

Richard burst out laughing; just the idea of either of them with someone like Gabi. But he played along.

“OK. And the winner takes the other out to dinner. And drinks. Lots of drinks.”

“No, the loser has to pay.”

“No, man, in this case, the winner! Only right that he has to pay.”

Tommy starred him in the eye, thinking intensely. Finally,

“All right. I can dig that. Put it there.” He spat on his hand, rather more than he anticipated, and Richard begrudgingly shook. At that point, Chris joined them.

“What’s going on here ?”

Tommy answered in a pure, matter-of-fact voice, “Oh, we’re having a bet who can fuck Gabi first.”

Chris stuck out his hand.

“Count me in,” quickly checking behind him, to make sure Monika was well out of earshot.

Both Tommy and Richard protested and shook their heads.

“You’re with Monika. Gabi would never go with you.” argued Richard.

Over the discussion, Tommy brought them to silence.

“He’s right, you’ll have to wait six months before you can go from one member of The Gang to the other. That’s what happened when I left Silka for her friend, and when Silke went from Kai to Andreas. Didn’t think Andreas would last the course. Must have more between his legs than between his ears.”

Kai walked over, thinking he had heard his name. Richard and Chris turned to look at each other. Chris spoke first, addressing Tommy, Richard with the follow up.

“You were with Silke ?”

“And … how is she ? Bet she’s into some real kinky stuff ?”

“No, not so much. Kinda placid, actually. Lies back and takes it. Which is all right, you know, don’t have to put too much energy into it, or thought, just get the auto-pilot up and running.”

“Well,” began Chris, “that does surprise me.”

“Yeah, my whole scale of balance is shifted.”

“Maybe … “ said Chris, building tension, “and don’t take this the wrong way, but, maybe, just maybe … it was you. Like, you know … you just ain’t no good ?”

“No way, Churchill, home-run every time. Hey, let’s ask Sabrina. I was with her once. ”

“No. No, no.” said Chris.

“What ? Are you nuts ?” asked Richard, but it was too late. Tommy called out to her on the dance floor,

“Hello, Sabi … aren’t I a sex-god in bed ? These two don’t believe me.”

Sabrina, not missing a beat of the music, answered,

“Ach, you’re OK, nothing special. Too sweaty for me. And your orgasm cry is weird.”

Instead of being embarrassed, Tommy stood there, proudly, arms outstretched, as if to say, ‘see, didn’t I tell you ?’.

“Why did Sabrina dump you ?” inquired Chris.

“Well … she’s very business minded. Got her own five-year plan. One of those ‘work hard, play hard’ types. When she dumped me, it was like a hostile take-over; ‘I’m going to have to let you go’. I was dumped by the board of Sabrina GmbH.”

“Did you at least get a golden handjob ?” asked Chris with a misleadingly serious face.

Andreas joined them and Chris and Richard regarded him in a new light. Tommy smiled at him and Andreas smiled back, not knowing what was going on.

“And ? What’s happening ?”

A blonde student moved up to Kai, attaching herself to his arm, and whispered something to him. Kai explained,

“The music’s going to start soon, we should go if we want to see it.”

“Do we want to see it ?” asked Andreas.

“Shouldn’t that be ‘hear it ?’” replied Tommy with a smug, alcohol grin.

“No, Arschloch, it’s also another verdammte (bloody, fucking) performance,” Kai clarified.

“Stefan is really good. On cello,” added the blonde. Kai looked down at her, as if seeing her for the first time, then seemed to remember,

“I liked her paintings,” he said by way of explanation, then moved into the other room.

The music stopped as an announcement was made, and people began crowding into the largest room, for what was rumoured to be the main event of the night.

When all space was taken, the lights dimmed and a tall and slightly overweight man dressed in dark trousers and tails walked onto the stage and took up the cello. A woman with long auburn hair and evening dress sat next to him, a folio on her lap. She nervously altered the position of it in her hands. Then the eagle-headed man from before reappeared, with wooden fork, and took up his position in the gravel box. He looked around, commanding silence and was about to commence, when there was a giggle. Andreas turned to those around him, and made a gesture of apology.

Eagle-head started again, raising his fork as a baton. The cellist looked over, an expression of earnest concentration, eyebrows furrowed, eyes squinting behind round lenses. He slowly drew his bow across the instrument and played a gentle passage of quite unexpected beauty.

The room was silent. Monika and Gabi rested their heads against each other. Sabrina looked at Tommy with an ambiguous glimmer in the eye. Kai, standing at the back, had begun softly stroking the hair of the young artist at his side. Richard and Chris desisted drinking. Andreas went to find the toilet.

Softly, almost inaudibly, the woman in the evening dress began speaking, her head facing down into the folio before her.

Above the music and voice, there was an excruciating nails on blackboard shrill. The speaker gained in volume, though people still had to strain to understand. The cello continued, then suddenly made some savage scrapes across the strings, as the woman jumped up, an unexpected occurrence, a not altogether easy operation in such an outfit, and began shrieking, answered by more metallic scrapping.

The woman began screaming, unaccompanied, then more scrapping. Chris stood on tip-toes, and could see the hunched, eagle-headed figure, bent double, holding his fork above the gravel, then bringing it down at an exact spot and dragging it back and forth.

As suddenly as she has jumped to life, the woman sat down. There followed a conversation between cello and fork, though they didn’t seem to be speaking the same language.

The performance dragged on and people began trickling out, all drawn to the bar.

The woman actually seemed relieved, the cellist angry, and Eagle-head oblivious to the loss of audience.

By the time they had finished, there was barely half a dozen people left. The woman immediately jumped down and ran to a couple of friends. The cellist took inordinate care of his cello, as if not sure what to do and Eagle-head starting complaining about something to do with the box, or the gravel, or both, or neither.

Kai’s young friend said that she had to say hello to Stefan, the cellist, who she explained was in his last year of music studies, and was going to be a great conductor.

Meanwhile, the cultural appetites of The Gang having been assuaged, they began making plans for escape.

Chris was going to stay with Monika, who was first going to drive Sabrina to Gabi’s flat.

Tommy had found two Danish girls who had a car and wanted to see some of the underground bars that Tommy had told them about. He conferred with Richard. Andreas came over and asked what the plan was. Tommy decided. He, the two Danes, Andreas and Richard would go to Friedrichshain, Richard suggesting Café Kinski.

The Gang said their farewells, hugs and kisses all around, except Gert whom no one had seen for hours, and Kai who was occupied with a kissing thing of his own.

Tommy walked between Anna and Karin, the Danish girls, while Richard and Andreas followed to the car parked a few streets away.

There was a little skirmish as Tommy claimed shot gun but Andreas, who had taken a fancy to Anna, the driver, said that as Tommy was so short, he should get in the back.

He was about to object, then noticed that Karin had a great, healthy, Scandinavian body, and orchestrated himself into the middle seat, keeping her away from Richard, with a sickly grin at his opponent.

Andreas gave directions, suggesting they drive up to Bismarkstrasse and then a straight run, past the Siegessäule, through the Brandenburger Tor, and on to Alexanderplatz, an easy journey and sight-seeing tour combined.

The car was full of screaming and joking and laughing, everyone speaking the lingua franca of English.

As they passed through the arch of the Brandenburger Tor, Richard remarked about the amazing turn of events, that less than five years previously, this wouldn’t have been possible, that The Wall had been there, watchtowers and armed guards and dogs and tanks and the might of Moscow.

They began speaking about when The Wall had fallen. It, of course, dominated the news in Denmark and England. Andreas said he was stoned in Bavaria and more concerned about being busted by the local police (“Bavarian paranoia” a complaint shared by all the Bavarian members of The Gang.)

Tommy allowed the conversation to flag, before speaking up.

“I was living in Berlin, West Berlin. And I’ve got a story. Who wants to hear it ?”

Love and Chaos Part 4(C) Chris 1

23rd December 2020

Berlin 2020 with the Cathedral (left) and the TV Tower. Photo by Martin O’Shea

Part Four. Berlin. Summer 1994

Chris wore a cotton top with white and purple horizontal stripes, faded black jeans and Converse All Star sneakers. Richard wore his slim-cut blue Levi’s and a light, dull-green, woollen jumper with brown leather waistcoat that Chris had picked up from one of Berlin’s many second-hand clothes stores. They looked cool and felt cool, Richard thinking he looked a little like Kurt Cobain on the ‘Unplugged’ show, and planned to grow his hair out. Possibly bleach it.

They met Monika at a bar for brunch at the area Richard now knew as the Wasserturm, or Water Tower. The Sunday afternoon pavements were covered with chairs and tables, children running and dogs hunting stray food. All the bars were busy, but Monika had saved two seats and waved to them.

Richard had been in Berlin for just over a week and had been out drinking with Chris nearly every night. The previous Friday, The Gang had meet up, this time going around the bars in the northern part of Prenzlauer Berg, around Schönhauser Allee U-Bahn, where Chris lived. Gabi had driven over with Lorelei, both seeming relieved to be away from their boyfriends. Andreas was there with Silke and Nice Guy Kai. Some other friends had turned up, and it seemed that Monika knew every waitress and barman in Berlin and that all the women were really cute, and all the men were really friendly. Richard mentioned this to Andreas;

“You haven’t been here long. Just wait.”

There was only one downer. How to behave to Lorelei, because there was no sense in hiding it; he was totally in love. Meeting her caused all the emotions to collide like a ‘super-charged particle accelerator’ as he himself described it. There was the initial excitement that almost caused his heart to burst, the gasping for air, as the tension grabbed him by the throat. Then came the terrifying doubts, wondering how she felt and how he should act and react to her. How to play it cool, when he just wanted to go over and confess his love and throw himself at her cute little, painted toenailed feet. And he wanted to kiss her so much, he thought he would go crazy.

The subject of today’s lunchtime summit.

“You know how I think it went ?” asked Chris, referring to the previous evening, “Brilliantly. She digs you. Big time.”

“But the boyfriend ?”

“No, I don’t think you have to worry. They are like flatmates. They share a bed, but make nothing.”

Richard thanked Monika for the information, before Chris continued,

“And she laughed at all your jokes. Even the ones I didn’t even get.”

“She was just being polite.”

“Oh, right. C’mon, she’s into you like a train.”

“I hope so.”

Monika silently ate her lunch, then was relieved to be able to change the subject.

“Oh, next Saturday, Erika is giving a performance. I said we’d go.”

“Sure.”

“Yeah, cool. Who’s Erika ?”

Chris answered,

“Barmaid slash performance artist. Does … kinda improvised … what would you say, Moni ?”

“Performances.”

“Exactly ! She … ah, you’ll see. Oh, Arizona may come. He wants to hang out with us.”

“Arizona ? Oh, from your studio. Don’t think I met him last time.”

“No, he’s cool. Little bit older than us, mid-thirties. Bit of a character. You’ll see.”

After a lunch of sausage and eggs, fruit and the obligatory Sekt, Monika left, as she had to get home to work on some dress she was making. One of several ways she earned money. Chris explained, as they took a stroll,

“Some mornings she gets up and cleans a bar, sometimes works the door in a club, sometimes hands out flyers, sometimes does check-out in a small supermarket, sometimes does dressmaking, alterations, sometimes does haircuts . . . you know.”

“How do you keep up ?”

“It’s not easy. I need something like a periodic table, like all those chemistry dorks used to have on their walls.”

They walked up Rykestr, turning around and seeing the TV Tower loom over the Wasserturm, through the trees of the park. Then a turn into the main Danziger Str, and one block east to the Ernst Thälmann park with its massive statue.

“These girls are amazing,” said Richard. “Silke, Gabi, Moni … Lorelei. Oh, man ! They should form a band. Just look at them: Moni with short, black hair, Silke; spikey, Gabi; curly, dirty blond and Lorelei’s luscious locks. Forget All Saints, it would be the hottest chick band, ever !”

“I know. Amazing, isn’t it ? I thought after Ute, that’s it. But it worked out just fine.”

“Advice, c’mon, spill; how do I get Lorelei ? What moves did you pull on Moni ?”

“Oh, it was a breeze, baby, couldn’t be easier. Ute dumped me. There I was, allein in einer grossen Stadt (alone in a big city), got a shitty job, no money, live in squalor and just lost the love of my life. Began going out with some of the Biberkopf staff after work, drinking. At one bar, I meet Monika. She asks why I’m looking so sad. Got so much sympathy … that, my friend, is how to get women.”

“Act all pathetic and make them pity you ?”

“Hey, I’m the one with the girlfriend, remember ?”

“But I’ve got no one to dump me.”

“Well, that can be easily solved.”

“Could always leak it that I was dumped in London … came here to forget my pain … ?”

“See … now you’re thinking. And that, Amigo, calls for a drink.”

Chris had taken some days off from Biberkopf to be with Richard, but was now working five nights a week, as well as occasional days at the studio. The following Saturday, after seeing Erika’s performance, Lorelei asked Richard,

“What do you do all day ?”

They had meet at a new café in one of Prenzlauer Berg’s back streets. It was the familiar converted shop space, a plain room with large, wooden tables, and just candles and ashtrays for decoration. Soundgarden on the CD player. The barman with two or three friends at the bar. It was very quiet, but was still very early for Berlin.


The gang, on the night of Erika’s show, was without Silke, who was working, but with Nice Guy Kai and one of his new girlfriends.

From the bar, they drove to Kreutzberg, Pearl Jam pounding out of Monika’s car stereo as she twisted and turned around Alexanderplatz.

Another Hinterhof, south of the river. A mixture of junk and broken furniture, some sorry-looking plants, broken glass, empty beer crates and cigarette butts. Twenty or so people, standing around, drinking, smoking, laughing, shouting.

Erika’s show was through one of the doors that led off into a basement, but was locked. It was Berlin, performances were not expected to start on time.

The Gang all got another drink, passed around cigarettes and talked. Richard was unable to get any idea of what the performance would involve, but enjoyed seeing the individual reactions, Andreas and Kai appearing very cynical, Monika supportive and Chris nonsensical.

A man walked into the Hof, alone, dressed in leather trousers, with a mauve T-shirt and bottle-green, velvet jacket. He wore yellow-tinted glasses, had thick sideburns and a four-day growth of beard. He looked around, then waved to Chris.

Arizona Al.

Introductions were made, then a door opened and people began paying the entrance and descending into the converted performance space.

Inside, the walls were painted bright orange with various murals showing scenes derived from Bruegel and Bosch; sinners being devoured by demons, or put into lakes of fire. Arizona Al was somewhat taken aback and was particularly struck by one group in a corner, showing four men who appeared to be musicians, though their instruments were more like weapons. There was a blond woman next to them, who appeared to be in severe discomfort. He pointed it out to Chris and asked what it was.

“Don’t know. Kinda spooky, isn’t it ?”

“Yeah, like, man, what’s going on ? This some kinda devil-freak joint ?”

Chris was about to mention the illustration to the others, when the background music abruptly cut out. People began turning to face the small, central stage area, and moving forward.

Erika marched onto the stage, commanding everyone’s attention. She had curly, auburn hair, which was moused and thick. Her face was brightly made-up, thick, red lips and long lashes. She wore a black and white basque, fishnet stockings and high heels.

She made sure everyone was looking at her, before walking around the stage, striking a pose, and clicking her fingers. On cue, the music began, Marlene Dietrich numbers, which she mimed along to, or acted out.

During ‘Kisses Sweeter Than Wine’, she was joined onstage by a friend, also in lingerie, but with short, brown hair and a few layers less of make-up. They performed a mime about falling in love and raising a happy family, Erika taking the male role.

The opening line, about a young man who had never been kissed, brought sighs of sympathy from Gabi and Lorelei, and made Richard feel uncomfortable, in case The Gang thought it applied to him.

Arizona Al, like Chris, Richard, Kai and all the other men in the audience, was just enjoying the sight of what he referred to as “Two smokin’ babes,” cavorting around.

After twenty minutes, the show was over and Eighties German pop music helped to clear the space.

Outside, people got drinks from a bar area and stood around in small groups. That was when Lorelei asked Richard how he spent his days.

“I get up early, fix myself breakfast, and go back to bed. I read a lot, walk around, wait for Chris to come back, then go to the local bars. Of course, I spend a lot of time thinking about you.”

Lorelei smiled, then turned away.


Erika came up to them, dressed as she had been on stage, but with a leather jacket now over her shoulders.

They all told her how much they had enjoyed the show.

“Very nice,” said Chris, with a knowing glance at Monika.

Al introduced himself, then had some questions about the practicalities of performing, whom to ask, how much could be made.

“Yeah, don’t want to monopolize you, know you got a lot of people to see, just one more question, don’t know if you’d know, but there’s this picture in the corner, it’s like four dudes and some blonde chick and, I don’t know, it’s kinda … weird, you know, like … “

He made a gesture of terror and fear. The others had all stopped talking to hear, and see, Al’s own performance, knowing that Erika only had basic English. She was silent for some seconds, trying to process the inquiry, then she understood, and looked to Kai for confirmation.

“Oh, Ja, that’s based on an old German folk … “

“Legend. Folk tale.” Kai to her aid.

“Genau (exactly) a folk legend.” Kai took over,

“It’s from the Medieval times, from the Black Forest area. It’s called The Concert Of Grotesques. Do you know it ? It’s a great story … “